MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Senate Republicans aired a list of grievances Monday as they reviewed the job performance of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, the latest Cabinet member to face tough questions and the potential loss of her job amid disputes between Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and the Senate GOP majority.
Several GOP senators objected to how the Walz administration is bypassing the Legislature as it drafts new clean car rules that would bring Minnesota into line with 14 other states including California. Some accused Bishop of improperly soliciting letters of support from entities that her agency regulates. And others criticized how the MPCA has handled some high-profile pollution cleanups.
But the joint hearing by two Senate environment committees ended with two of the leading critics saying they looked forward to working with Bishop in the future. That contrasted with a contentious confirmation hearing Friday for Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley. The senator who chaired that hearing made it clear that Kelley could be ousted for appealing the green-light that Enbridge Energy got from independent utility regulators to proceed with its controversial Line 3 replacement project. Neither hearing included a vote because the Legislature isn’t in session.
“I expect to be challenged every day. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this job, and I’d probably be bored,” Bishop said.
Bishop defended how the Walz administration is developing rules meant to encourage a switch to low- and no-emission vehicles, a process that Republican lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to block on the grounds that it would increase costs for car buyers. The rule-making process is still at an early stage and there will be ample opportunity for Minnesotans across the state to weigh in, she said, adding that the earliest the rules could take effect is the 2025 model year.
“The Legislature should be playing a bigger role in the decision-making on something that is so potentially very big when it comes to business,” said GOP Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, of Alexandria, who chairs one of the committees.
But as the hearing wrapped up, Ingebrigtsen said he understood that Bishop is in a political position and represents the policies of the governor who appointed her. He told her he looked forward “to working with you in the future,” indicating she may have one.
The other chair, Sen. Carrie Ruud, of Breezy Point, said she appreciated their “frank conversations. It’s not always to be easy to under fire. … We have a lot of things to talk about and to discuss going forward. I hope we are able to do that in January” she said. That’s when the next regular session opens, raising the possibility that Bishop will still be commissioner.
Senate Republicans used a special session earlier this month to remove Walz’s labor and industry commissioner in a dispute over how the governor has been using his emergency powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. And they indicated that more ousters could follow. The Senate also held a hearing last week on a Walz’s appointee to the Public Utilities Commission, Joe Sullivan, who voted for Line 3.
But senators won’t get another chance this year to vote on confirming or rejecting more commissioners unless Walz calls another special session. The governor has called one each time he has extended his emergency powers since the regular session ended to give lawmakers a monthly chance to rescind his orders. But he has said there’s a gray area in the law and that he might not really need to keep summoning lawmakers back.
As he criticized the conduct of the hearing, Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, of Minneapolis, also praised Bishop for looking out for the public health and environmental quality.
“A lot has been said about this being a performance review, but it really seems to be kind of a curated list of complaints and and a long effort to scold you for things that don’t politically meet with the muster of the majority party,” he said. “And I think that’s a shame, because I think you are to be commended and the governor is to be commended.”
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